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Chasing the Rabbit: Bobby Thomas of Red Hare Brewing

What led you to become a craft brewer?

In short, I like to drink craft beer. I was selling plumbing supplies with Roger Davis (now my business partner) before the Great Recession. At some point, we both decided that we were pretty good at drinking beer, and sales were slowing on the job, so we decided to give making our own beer a try. It seemed better than making sales calls at the time since everyone was just so damned depressed about the economy. We started brewing beer in Roger’s basement while making some sales calls at the same time. Of course we drank a good bit while doing so – trying as many different beers as we could. Time went on and we got better and better at brewing and drinking beer. All the while, the economy kept going down the shitter (literally for those of us in the plumbing business), and we finally decided to seriously look at starting a brewery. We put together a plan, presented it to friends and family while letting them sample our product and we were off. Well, not really. It took a good bit longer to beg, borrow and steal (just kidding) the rest of the money we thought we needed to actually start a brewery. We had no idea how much it was really going to take in the end, but we kept pushing forward. Roger and I headed to San Francisco for the CBC and I ended up going out to UC Davis for the Intensive Brewing Science course. Before we knew it, we had a building, equipment and a lot more debt. We’ve been brewing ever since and haven’t looked back.

What is your favorite Red Hare beer?

My favorite beer of ours changes over the seasons. I’m really digging our SPF 50/50 right now with the hot weather. They just go down so easy, especially by the pool. I love all of our seasonals but usually fall back to our year-round Cotton Tail Pale Ale followed by a Gangway IPA, then back to a Cotton Tail.

SPF 50/50, a self-styled India Pale Radler, is a half-and-half blend of Red Hare's popular Gangway IPA and grapefruit juice (and is one of Bobby's current favorites).

What Red Hare recipes have you been responsible for?

I’m ultimately responsible for all of our beers, be they good or bad. As far as recipes go, everyone around the brewery puts in their thoughts for what goes into the next brew. From sales team to taproom staff to the entire production team, everyone has input on what they want to see in a new beer. That’s part of what makes it fun to be part of our team.

Red Hare also has a line of sodas. Why the focus on non-alcoholic options?

Roger and I both have big families and multiple children. Family is a very important part of our lives. When we started having the tours/tastings at the brewery, we noticed that people liked to bring their kids. This was a relief to us as our kids were dragged there to play while we worked the day away. Anyway, we decided we needed a non-alcoholic option for kids in the taproom. This led to the root beer and eventually the grapefruit soda. We’re playing with the idea of more non-alcoholic options in the future, but still mostly focusing on new beers right now.

Who designs the cans and the can artwork?

We have little powwows at the brewery where we kick around ideas until we have an agreement of some kind on the direction of artwork. Then our in-house artist, Elyse Moore, takes those crazy, random and often indecisive ideas and puts her own spin on them. She’s a really great artist and somehow brings all of our ideas to life.

Bobby is responsible for all the recipes in Red Hare's lineup, which make up a kaleidoscope of colors and flavors.

Red Hare was recently named 4th-best brewery in the nation at the US Open Beer Championships. How does it feel to receive such an honor?

I was ecstatic when I saw the list come through of the winners that morning. I immediately texted everyone and was on cloud nine all day. I still am. It’s truly a great honor to be held in such high regard, especially with the other breweries that were ahead of us. 

Any plans for expansion in the future?

We actually went through a major expansion last year. We pretty much sold all of our original equipment and doubled production. We went from a 20-BBL, two-vessel brewhouse to a 40-BBL, three-vessel brewhouse (with all kinds of fun extras). We traded in our 40 BBL unit tanks for 160s and went from a five-head Cask can filler to a 40-head rotary filler, which has been amazing. We used to can at about 28 cans a minute. Now we push 200-220 cans a minute – it’s really fun to watch our canning line.

Red Hare went through a major expansion last year, selling off its original equipment and doubling production.

Any cool new beers on the horizon?

We’re working on new beers constantly these days. We’re really trying to come out with something new as often as we possibly can, but it’s hard to keep up with production on top of that. We just launched our Cotton Tail Creamsic-Ale, which is like drinking an orange creamsicle. We’ll release some barrel-aged Sticky Stout in August at our 5th anniversary party and then the Long Night Lager (an American Lager brewed with coffee) in September, which is a collaboration with Cool Beans coffee roasters in downtown Marietta, Georgia – it’s going to be so good! Then we’ve got a few more things up our sleeve for the winter months (maybe a beer that tastes like Blueberry Belgian Waffle?) and all kinds of fun new stuff for next year.

One final question: Red Hare's branding and numerous beer names seem inspired by Richard Adams' Watership Down. Any reason why?

You know, it’s really funny when I start looking back (or having flashbacks) of my past; I’m remembering more and more things that inexplicably had some sort of rabbit in them. I remembered that I actually got on stage with Gallagher one time at a comedy show. He picked me out of the crowd, and I don’t think he knew what he was in for. I had the crowd rolling with laughter within seconds as he had me act out a skit as, you guessed it, a rabbit. I remember watching the animated Watership Down when I was a kid and thinking how messed up of a movie it was, what with all the oppressed rabbits and such. When we were coming out with our Brown ale, I knew it had to be called Watership Brown. It only made sense. When I was in college, one of our group projects was creating a new business and of course we named it Hasenpfeffer, which is a type of rabbit stew in Germany, and so naturally, that would be the name of our Oktoberfest too. Memories like that make it easy to name beers after rabbits.

Photos Courtesy of Red Hare Brewing